Having seen the failure of the Botswana route, the two earlier attempts to go through Mozambique, and the possibility of penetrating via the Caprivi Strip through Namibia, with SWAPO guerrillas, the ANC had no other option left open to them other than partnering ZAPU in Rhodesia, on their way home.
The Unilateral Declaration of Independence [UDI] by the renege Ian Smith’s Rhodesia Front party on 11 November 1965, had not only increased Africans inside Rhodesia, but had made both ZANU and ZAPU more determined to want to fight the enemy to the bitter end. And for ZAPU, partnering the ANC, was an added advantage as it would have not only its own fighters from the ANC’s MK too, 8if the need arose.
The Zambezi, is a great, majestic and uncompromising mass of moving water force, which only a fool can take lightly when trying to cross. In fact, crossing the Great Zambezi, can be compared to David’s conquering of the seemingly invincible Goliath in an uneven battle that was to decide people’s fate. And the moment seemingly might Goliath, was slain, the tide suddenly tipped in favour of the weak. Now it was another giant that needed to be conquered, not with a sling-shot, not with a sword, but with rubber dingys, rafts and canoes. And once this could be done, the ground upon the white colonial regime stood, would begin to shake.
The task of scouring the Zambezi valley for a possible crossing point was going to be as insurmountable as was that of finally crossing the great river itself. First, it would be the jungle thickets that needed to be hacked through, and conquered then it was the wild animals that sheltered along the whole length of the river valley for the for the purpose of being close to water, vegetative shelter and above all a guaranteed food source. And animals like lions, hyenas, leopards and others are never known to discriminate upon humans as food if they avail themselves, as their wild innocence cannot distinguish between righteousness and evil.
Because they were willingly going to disturb ecological system that had prevailed since creation, the group of Chris Hani, Mavuso Msimang, Lehlonolo Lambert Moloi guerillas others from ZAPU who had been given the task to reconnoiter the Zambezi valley wilderness, knew exactly what they were up against. Their task was not meant to end on the Zambian side of the Zambezi valley only, as they were supposed to cross the great river itself and further scout the Rhodesian side bank of the river too. It was quiet clear to the guerillas, that non of these tasks was ever going to be easy. The river itself was a greatest challenge, as it awash with ill-tempered teams of hippos that could viciously attack at the click of a finger, even without being provoked rendering those crossing becoming food for river creatures like crocodiles and fish down below.
Once the river crossing task was done, the group was supposed to and make contact with indigenous African people on the Rhodesian side so as to also gather intelligence on military activities as well as to establish further future links. The group undertaking reconnaissance work which included Lehlohonolo Lambert Moloi had for month camped along the Zambezi, at a base they had established at Livingstone. They covered every bit of the river valley along the Kariba Dam right up to a place called Katulunge. The group was divided into teams so that the task could be experdited. This group was also later joined by fighters from ZAPU and it was Lehlohonolo Lambert Moloi who was leading them all. Those from ZAPU were Masiya Atwel, Bokwe, Isdore Dube, Luke Mhlanga, Roger Machimini. Koseph Maphosa, Gordon Butshe and Victoria Mlambo.
Apart from its reconnaissance task, the team also observed animals within the vicinity and how they were reacting whenever they came in contact with humans, as well as monitoring the way the river flowed. By July 1967 a lot of work had been done as the group had collected enough data on what was to be expected from the unpredictable river and its flora and fauna. They also established places to hide fighters arms caches. Along the river banks they identified three places, they had deemed suitable to be used as crossing points. The first one was at Kazungula, near Livingstone towards the west. The second was near where Lake Kariba started. And the third at a place to the east of a place called Feira, all these were to the west upstream of the Kariba Dam.
On completion, a comprehensive report was made to the leadership of the Joint Military Command by the Reconnaissance team so that preparations to launch the real work could begin. The joint military and political High command which was formed to coordinate the new, but very noble idea, comprised of both ZAPU and ANC leadership. In command, on the ANC side was Oliver Tambo from the ANC, who was acting as the ANC President and Umkonto weSizwe Command-In-Chief in exile, talking cognizance of the fact that Nelson Mandela and most of the ANC leadership were now serving prisons at Roben Island. On the ZAPU side, was James Dambaza Chikerema who was acting ZAPU President as well as ZPRA’s Commander-In-Chief, in the abbesence of Joshua Nkomo and the other leaders who were also serving prisons terms in Rhodesia. These two were directing the political side of the whole plan, and also being the supreme authority.
Those that made military hierarchy were Joe Modise and Akim Ndlovu, MK and ZAPU commanders, respectively. Then there was Archie Sibeko(Zola Zembe) the MK Chief operations, Dumiso Dabengwa , the Chief of Intelligence, Mjojo (General Tshali) MK Chief of Staff, Walter Mavuso (Mavuso Msimang) MK Chief of Communications, CHRIS HANI, MK Commissar and John Dube(ZPRA) assigned to command the Joint Operation in the field. This was the group that was to spearhead personnel administration , reconnaissance, intelligence gathering and all logistical requirements of the operation.
In honor of the Chief Albert Luthuli, the ANC President who had died that July of 1967, just before the operation was launched, the Umkonto weSizwe Detachment, was named the “Luthuli Detachment”, after him.